Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, as well as the usual plethora of thinner-than-ever TVs and faster-than-ever laptops (and a ‘smart’ hairbrush), what caught the headlines was a range of voice-controlled devices that posited that the way we interact with our devices will be rapidly be altered fundamentally. But was this just the hype machine buzzing again, or is there something that publishers can learn as voice starts making more noise?

In truth, in many ways this was the year of Alexa at CES. Amazon’s virtual assistant software was integrated into a range of new tech products, from TVs to vacuum cleaners and power sockets. Lenovo’s Smart Assistant offered an alternative to the Amazon way, as do a range of personal assistant devices offered by other tech giants that weren’t present in Las Vegas, but this year’s show was certainly Alexa’s time in the sun.

And there are obvious benefits here for consumer engagement, with in-house assistants like Alexa offering users easy access to publishers’ audio content and encouraging them to build brand loyalty via daily bulletins, breaking news etc.

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However, the larger lesson here is surely to do with the rise of voice as a method for controlling our devices, and in particular how the increased consumer knowledge of voice control that Alexa et al. could stir up might benefit the smartphone most. GlobalWebIndex’s research has shown that voice search on mobile has already become a popular, if not yet mainstream, activity among internet users. In fact, it’s now around a quarter of online 16-24s who are regularly using voice search tools on their smartphones.

Well over 90 percent of internet users have a smartphone in their pocket now and these devices can easily replicate many of the functionalities that new home assistant devices boast, but without the need for consumers to spend more money on yet another device. And of course, mobiles can offer users access to a range of content beyond audio.

There is certainly the need for the industry to come to grips with the opportunities offered by home assistants but these devices are niche products, and may remain so for some time. The audience that can be reached via voice functionality on smartphones, however, is vast and the publishers that can effectively utilize this channel for user engagement stand to benefit significantly.